Stone agers in the fast lane: chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective

Am J Med. 1988 Apr;84(4):739-49. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(88)90113-1.


From a genetic standpoint, humans living today are Stone Age hunter-gatherers displaced through time to a world that differs from that for which our genetic constitution was selected. Unlike evolutionary maladaptation, our current discordance has little effect on reproductive success; rather it acts as a potent promoter of chronic illnesses: atherosclerosis, essential hypertension, many cancers, diabetes mellitus, and obesity among others. These diseases are the results of interaction between genetically controlled biochemical processes and a myriad of biocultural influences--lifestyle factors--that include nutrition, exercise, and exposure to noxious substances. Although our genes have hardly changed, our culture has been transformed almost beyond recognition during the past 10,000 years, especially since the Industrial Revolution. There is increasing evidence that the resulting mismatch fosters "diseases of civilization" that together cause 75 percent of all deaths in Western nations, but that are rare among persons whose lifeways reflect those of our preagricultural ancestors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Chronic Disease* / epidemiology
  • Culture
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Haplorhini / genetics
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Physical Exertion
  • Smoking / adverse effects